Welcome to episode 38!
We have quite a very exciting line-up this time around. Later on we review the five-episode spin-off/sequel to the incredibly successful Black Lagoon series, but first, a rare foray into the world of the sports anime!
Days (2016, S1, 24x24mins)
Sports, High School
“For the first time in my life, I found something!”
Days follows Tsukushi Tsukamoto (center), a shy child starting his first year at Seiseki High School. He bumps into a fellow freshman in Jin Kazama (left), who unlike Tsukamoto is loud and full of life. Kazama asks him if he will fill in with his futsal team, as their a player short for their upcoming game. Tsukamoto agrees, running miles to make it to the match despite having absolutely no football (soccer) ability. Despite this, Kazama is amazed by the small kid’s passion, and asks him to try out for the Seiseki High School football team, one of the most respected high school teams in Japan.
Basically Plot: A classic plot following Tsukamoto, a quiet boy seemingly useless at soccer who, fuelled by a spirit ignited by the people around him, rises up the ranks of the acclaimed Seiseki High soccer team.
While I had seen Yuri on Ice before this, Days felt like my first serious foray into the world of the ‘sports anime’. It may not be clear from my work on The Culture Cove, but my number one hobby is sport, specifically football (as a Brit I refuse to call it soccer). I’ve always been a bit pessimistic about sports anime, because the type of sport reflected on Tv etc. is rarely the type of sport we fall in love with. That’s not to say it can’t be done – I’ve seen some excellent fictional sports movies before – but it’s very difficult to match the real thing, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Days does come short in areas.
Obviously my views of what football is differ from the views of someone on the other side of the world, but even taking away my personal, biased view, I think this series’ story can get gratingly perfect. Such episode titles as “We’ll Get the Ball Over to Where Your Voice Can Reach Us in No Time” and “Running for Someone, That’s the Kind of Soccer I Want to Play” highlight a story that is all too focused on delivering an ‘inspiring’ message and not on creating a captivating story. Also, while the animation in non-action moments was okay, a real lack of movement during the actual sporting moments, along with storytelling that constantly slowed down the event to the point that 5 minutes of a game could be half an episode long led to climaxes that lacked spark.
However, it is worth saying that this is clearly a show aimed at younger kids, and there are good things going for it in that regard. While the lead, along with the plot, is classically cliché, his development feels natural and is good to watch, while the rest of the characters are also plenty interesting. While the story does little to excite someone with a strong football background like myself, I can imagine the story being quite appealing to people who maybe are not the biggest fans of sport. Would I recommend it? Nope, but with a bright palette and a positive message this probably has all the ingredients to appeal to children.
ANIME RANKING: #64 – Days is certainly not pulling up any trees, but it’s decent ranking puts it ahead of series such as The Royal Tutor and Fuuka!
If you liked this you’ll love: Yuri on Ice!! – We haven’t reviewed many sports anime here, but we have seen one of the most successful in YoI. While the talentless Tsukamoto is replaced with the super talented Yuri, the same themes of ambition and friendship in competition come out in this series, while Yuri also offers animation, emotion and character development on another level. Yuri on Ice is simply a must watch for fans of sports series!
Servant x Service (2013, S1, 13x23mins)
“Where’s the place where I won’t get caught slacking off?”
Servant x Service centres around the lives of civil servants working in the Welfare Department in the city of Mitsuba, and the three new employees joining the offices. Yagami Lucy (front) joins the team in the hope of discovering the identity of the employee who permitted her ridiculous birth name – Lucy Kimiko Akie Airi Shiori Rinne Yoshiho Chihoko… – Hasebe Yutaka (second right) joins in the hope of an easy life, and Miyoshi Saya (third middle) joins in the hope of surviving her first ever job. Add to that a higher-up with no experience of teaching employees, a cold-hearted and cosplay-obsessed employee and a department boss who is actually a stuffed toy, and you have a less than normal workplace, and that’s before you even meet the citizens!
Basically Plot: Follows the eccentric civil servants working at Mitsuba’s Welfare Department, through awkward clients, troublesome relatives and office romance.
This might sound slightly stereotypical in terms of workplace comedies, and that’s because it is. There’s not much that you see in Servant x Service that you wouldn’t see in other workplace comedies. However, there’s plenty in SxS that will appeal to fans of other slice-of-life comedies.
While not necessarily the most exciting cast on the surface – there’s no major extremities to any of the characters in this series, minus the boss being a toy… – the story does a good job of bringing each person’s personality out, creating a core of strong individuals that are not only relatable but also very funny! Again, while it’s not necessarily anything to write home about, the simple story that runs throughout leaves room for the slice-of-life comedy, while also keeping to series focused and stopping it from slipping into sit-com mode like some other series.
The animation is also very clean – produced by a major animation studio (A-1 Pictures: Your Lie in April, Anohana), this is a series that has almost no faults with its animation, which does at times leave the series feeling a little emotionless.
On the face of it, this is a pretty immaculate series – solid characters, good comedy with a decent storyline and strong animation – but this series of 7/10’s lacks the character of a series such as Wagnaria to elevate it to the next level. Servant x Service is a series worth your time, but not necessarily something to scream and shout about.
ANIME RANKING: #56 – A solid ranking for a solid comedy, placing it just behind Sword Oratoria and ahead of Toradora!
If you liked this you’ll love: Wagnaria!! – Mentioned above, this restaurant-based comedy is seen by most as the epitome of the workplace comedy anime. With many of the same themes as SxS – quirky and irritating employees, with good comedy and hints of romance – Wagnaria creates a similar environment to SxS but packs much more punch and character into its seemingly small frame! It’s simply a must-watch series, but particularly for fans of Servant x Service!
Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail (2010, S3, 5x35mins)
Wait! Check out our review for the first two seasons of Black Lagoon here!
Set after the events of the original Black Lagoon series, this story begins by following Roberta (right), the mercenary-turned-maid to the Venezuelan Lovelace family. At a political event in Venezuela her employer, head of the Lovelace family, is killed in an explosion coordinated by US soldiers. Driven mad by rage, she hunts down the men responsible, her search – inevitably – taking her back into the criminal underworld of Roanapur. Word quickly reaches the Black Lagoon group, who are keen to distance themselves from the killing machine, to avoid a situation like last time (season one). However, when young Garcia Lovelace arrives back in the city, aided by his bodyguard Fabiola and Mr. Chang, the controller of Roanapur’s criminal underworld, Rock is persuaded to help the kid find his close friend before she gets killed, or levels the entire city.
Basically Plot: The terminator-esque maid Roberta from the original series is driven mad by the death of her master, causing her to rain havoc on Roanapur. Meanwhile, Black Lagoon are tasked by the master’s son with saving her.
This was not what I expected it to be. Going into it with little information I assumed this would be more of a spin-off series, following a popular side-character from the original series in a completely new setting and story. Roberta may be the title, but this series is in fact a continuation of the original story, following Rock and Revy through Roanapur in what is in parts a lap-of-honour for the original story, but for the most part is actually a completely respectable third season.
Despite being only five episodes long – although the additional runtime of each episode makes it more like a 6/7 episode series – there is a solid story here that could be enough for a whole anime series. Roberta was the stand-out story from season one, and her character is fleshed out further here, not to mention powered up to a ridiculous level, even more so than S1. At some points this unbelievable strength can be a bit stupid, but the emotion behind it all, not to mention her addiction to medication, is really exciting to watch unfold. As mentioned earlier, this series is also a good follow-up to the original, and the relationship between Rock and Revy is analysed further in RBT, which for a fan of the original is good to see. Some of the character development is forced at the strangest of times, but that’s to be forgiven when you have so much less time than usual.
A criticism I often hear of Black Lagoon is the repetitive, simple nature of the scenarios the characters are put in, and Roberta’s Blood Trail certainly doesn’t deviate from the original appeals of the main series; the story is basically the Roberta arc from season one stretched into five episodes. However, fans of the original series will be glad to hear that RBT is a more than acceptable addition to the franchise. There’s a stronger psychological side here than in the original, the constant gunshots and awesome fighting scenes continuing to be laced with the dark reality of the criminal world they are swallowed by, with the addition of Garcia and Fabiola bringing that into a much stronger light and allowing the lead character Rock – once a salaryman – to develop into the naturally colder character that he would become.
This exciting game of cat and mouse through the world of Black Lagoon brings everyone back together in a well-produced mini-series that is not only good enough to stand by the original, but unique and deep enough to work on its own for people who haven’t seen the first two seasons but want a quick taste of the series.
ANIME RANKING: #39 – The Black Lagoon series jumps up five places with this strong sequel, leapfrogging series such as No Game No Life and Death Parade!
If you liked this you’ll love: Bungou Stray Dogs – It’s hard to find a respectable series that is as dark and violent as Black Lagoon. However, Bungou Stray Dogs – following a detective agency’s fights with a dangerous mafia group – follows similar themes of criminality and the importance of friendship in that world. While the dirt of Roanapur is replaced with a modern world of superpowers, BSD is still surprisingly violent, with its comicbook style of drawing and a fantastic mix of characters that pack the strong, dramatic punch Black Lagoon fans will be looking for.
Roberta’s Blood Trail really was a pleasant surprise, and is probably one of my favourite anime sequels of all time as a result. I’ve got nothing against sequels – much like with film sequels, they can go either way – however RBT offered something that never felt like a true sequel, yet still tied in nicely to the original series! I can’t think of any other anime series I’ve seen with a sequel/spin-off hybrid like this – if you know one then let us know in the comments!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 39, featuring popular music anime Beck!